Brunswick's annual Longfellow Days celebration returns

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BRUNSWICK — The region’s literary community is gearing up for the annual month-long celebration of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Now in its 11th year, Longfellow Days includes a series of lectures, poetry readings and performances commemorating Longfellow’s life and career.

This year, organizers hope to go beyond Longfellow’s reputation as a poet and probe some of his other written works.

“We’ve always been aware of some of his other works that didn’t receive as much attention as his poetry,” Amy Waterman, a writer and Longfellow Days co-chairwoman, said. “This gives us an opportunity to broaden the lens (of Longfellow’s work and life).”

While known mainly for his poetry, the range of Longfellow’s output was much broader, including essays and poetic-dramatic compositions.

He even penned a novel, “Kavanagh,” which met with mixed success, but is said to have been admired by authors Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne, according to the Longfellow Days organizing committee.

Longfellow Days started as a bicentennial celebration of the poet’s birth, and included events in museums and historical societies around southern Maine.

But in recognition of the poet’s unique relationship to the area – Longfellow was a student and then teacher at Bowdoin College, and lived in Brunswick – local organizers decided to make the celebration an annual event.

Each year, organizers emphasize another aspect of Longfellow’s career and life to add variety to the programming. 

Last year, there was a focus on Longfellow’s reaction to the Civil War, Waterman said. This year, the focus will be on his lesser-known works, and on how contemporary popular culture played a role in influencing his writing.

The event starts with the Coursen Readings series, featuring authors who have lived in the Brunswick area. The series is held Sundays in February at 1 p.m. in the fireplace room at the Curtis Memorial Library.

The fireplace readings typically bring out a small, but enthusiastic crowd, who appreciate the intimate setting, Waterman said. 

For those who want to get a first-hand look at where the poet spent some of his time, the Pejepscot Historical Society will offer a tour of the rooms he lived in from 1830-1832 at the Joshua Chamberlain Museum on Potter Street on Saturday, Feb. 7, at noon.

The silent film “The Three Musketeers” will be screened Saturday, Feb. 14, at 1 p.m. at the Smith Auditorium in Sills Hall on the Bowdoin campus. Piano accompaniment to the film will be provided by Doug Prostsik, and Bowdoin film studies professor Trisha Welsch will briefly discuss the 1921 film. 

On Wednesday, Feb. 18, University of Southern Maine professor Libby Bischof will delve into how Longfellow may have spent his free time, in a lecture called “Parlor Games, Photographs, Panoramas and Tableaux” that will focus on 19th-century popular culture and recreation. The talk is being held as part of the Midcoast Senior College’s Winter Wisdom Program and will be held in the Morrell Room at Curtis Memorial Library. 

Bowdoin students will put a dramatic spin on Longfellow’s work in a performance Feb. 19 at 7 p.m., at the Cram Alumni House on Federal Street. The performance will feature the author’s letters, compositions, and parts from Portland playwright Daniel Noel’s piece “Longfellow: A Life in the Woods.”

Maine Poet Laureate Welsey McNair will offer readings from his newest work, followed by a question-and-answer session and book signing on Saturday, Feb. 21, in Thorne Hall at Bowdoin College. 

Two events cap off the month: On Sunday, Feb. 22, there will be a special chapel service and concert at the Unitarian Universalist Church at 1 Middle St., and on Friday, Feb. 27, students from Brunswick schools and other community members will share their favorite poems in a birthday celebration for the poet.

All programs are free.

Peter L. McGuire can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or pmcguire@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter @PeteL_McGuire.

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